Watchdog: Retaliation complaints jump at VA

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal investigative agency is examining 67 claims of retaliation by supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs against employees who filed whistleblower complaints — including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing health care scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public.

The independent Office of Special Counsel said 30 of the complaints about retaliation have passed the initial review stage and were being further investigated for corrective action and possible discipline against VA supervisors and other executives. The complaints were filed in 28 states at 45 separate facilities, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said.

Instead of using information provided by whistleblowers as an early warning system, the VA often "has ignored or attempted to minimize problems, allowing serious issues to fester and grow," Lerner said Tuesday night at a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Worse, officials have retaliated against whistleblowers instead of investigating their complaints, she said.
Lerner said her office has been able to block disciplinary actions against several VA employees who reported wrongdoing, including one who reported a possible crime at a VA facility in New York.

The counsel's office also reversed a suspension for a VA employee in Hawaii who reported seeing an elderly patient being improperly restrained in a wheelchair. The whistleblower was granted full back pay and an unspecified monetary award and the official who retaliated against the worker was suspended, Lerner said.
James Tuchschmidt, a top official at the Veterans Health Administration, the VA's health care arm, said he was sorry that VA employees have suffered retaliation after making complaints.Katherine Mitchell, M.D., medical director, Iraq and Afghanistan Post-Deployment Center, Phoenix VA  …